Pass the Plate

Cape Cod Life  /  August 2020 / ,

Writer: Brenna Collins / Photographer: Pedro Blanco 

Since last December, the American Culinary Federation of Cape Cod has been donating their monthly raffle to Cape Kids Meals, a program that sends food insecure children home from school with food for the weekend. Here, the group raised over $5,000 for the cause.

The American Culinary Federation of Cape Cod stepped up to lend a hand, and serve some food, when it was needed most.

Home to some of New England’s freshest cuisine, Cape Cod is a culinary sensation. Without the professionalism, commitment, and talent of the chefs behind the scenes, this peninsula would not be the bustling haven it is today. In 2017, four chefs banded together to revitalize a defunct local chef’s association, the American Culinary Federation of Cape Cod (ACF). Today, the chapter represents more than 200 restaurants, individuals, and industry professionals across the region. 

In 1929, the American Culinary Federation was established to unite professionals in the culinary industry. With over 150 chapters nationwide and 17,500 members, the ACF continues to keep individuals involved and connected. The Cape & Islands chapter is currently the strongest in the country, representing well over 200 restaurants, individuals, and industry professionals. As president of the chapter and executive chef at the Wianno Club in Osterville, Mike Pillarella is passionate about expanding memberships through a grassroots effort. “Our strategy has been very simple: to bring a friend, bring a colleague,” he comments.

On the Cape, Islands and the South Shore, the ACF’s mission is to enrich the personal and professional growth of the local chef community, welcoming individuals to expand their network. Each monthly meeting rotates to a different restaurant venue from September through May. The diverse selection of sites ranges from high-end country clubs, like The Wianno Club, to breweries, like Cape Cod Beer. “It’s very exciting for our members because you get a behind the scenes look at these restaurants. We use it as an educational component to see what these chefs and their teams are doing. What is fabulous is that these chefs really put their heart and soul into showing off their location,” Pillarella comments. 

The ACF hosts member events at various venues throughout the year as well as fundraising events for local charitable causes.

While the focus is to enhance their professional network, the ACF works just as hard to give back to the community. The chapter firmly believes in the power of education to transport members to the next level. At the close of each year, scholarships are presented to individuals seeking to further their education. The group also holds a raffle for charitable causes at each meeting. Since last December, each raffle goes to Cape Kid Meals. “The program that Cape Kid Meals puts on is $180 to buy a backpack for a food insecure child for a year. That backpack goes home every Friday with food to sustain them for the weekend. That became our mission: to buy at least one backpack for every meeting. Our last meeting, I think we donated close to $4,200 to Cape Kid Meals,” Pillarella notes.

Come March, COVID-19 hit the restaurant community hard, forcing these beloved spots to indefinitely close their doors. The ACF saw this as a time to step up in full force to support the community, forming a separate nonprofit, the Cape Cod Family Table Collaborative, to serve the food insecure. “The Cape Kid Meals acted as a springboard for us to develop the Family Table Collaborative, a nonprofit that the ACF started along with the Faith Family Kitchen and the Cape Cod Culinary Incubator. It was designed to help facilitate the needs of the food insecure, with the major focus being on the culinary and hospitality community that was hit so hard by COVID. Then, it morphed into ‘let’s just feed whoever needs meals.’ You don’t need to meet any income requirements; it’s based on a good faith factor that if you show up, we will provide you a meal. At this point, we have served over 15,000 meals,” Pillarella comments. 

The three organizations involved had a vision to start a collaborative whose model could be replicated anywhere across the country: band together chefs with an operation that is not doing business, get finances and volunteers, and the group is able to produce food. Two major players in the operation were the commercial arm of Dan Delancey’s Lobster Trap, providing refrigerated trucks and aiding with logistics, and Guaranteed Fresh Produce of Hyannis, providing trucks twice weekly. 

Delancey, executive chef at The Lobster Trap and membership chair of the ACF, is central to the Family Table Collaborative. Pillarella commends the ACF’s board of directors for their work throughout the process. “Those are the people who were boots on the ground, driving trucks, loading food, cooking, making it happen. Without these individual efforts, nothing is going to happen. It is a collection of small, individual efforts that really put this together,” Pillarella says.

Delancey and his brother, Dave, are still serving the Cape community during a time in need. “When this all happened, I said to my brother, ‘We need to be here for the community and our staff.’ We gave box lunches to the hospitals, feeding the frontlines 500 meals a day,” Delancey says. “For the Family Table Collaborative, we stepped up as chefs and asked our vendors for donations. At the Lobster Trap, we’re donating our trucks, chowder and other food. Having all of these chefs help out to feed the community was great. That’s what we do. We feed people to make them feel good. It’s all we can do in these hard times,” he adds. 

As the operation grew with the Faith Family Kitchen, they began to get more creative. “If we’re feeding a child mac and cheese, what can we do to make it more substantial?” Delancey poses. For several weeks, The Cape Codder Resort offered their venue for the nonprofit. As restaurants begin to reopen, the Family Table Collaborative is continuing to operate in full swing on Tuesdays at floating locations and on Fridays at the Hyannis Youth and Community Center. 

As for the remainder of the summer season, Pillarella is cautiously optimistic. “I always try to be very hopeful. It is tempered with the reality that getting together in large groups is not going to happen in the foreseeable future. I have great hopes to do so,” he says. Over at The Lobster Trap, Dan Delancey is thankful to serve his patrons once again. “We are open now at The Lobster Trap for inside and outside seating. Just bringing some normalcy back to people’s lives has been great. We’re sanitizing our stations everywhere, everyone’s wearing masks, so we’re doing our part within the new normal. We’re very lucky to be in the position we’re in,” Delancey comments.

Within the ACF, Pillarella hopes to simply reunite with his fellow members. “What we’re really looking to do is get back to a sense of normalcy. The level of comradery and networking that we provide our chefs is unsurpassed, and that is what this chapter is all about. That is why we have been able to grow and flourish. We have inherently good people. We just want to get together again, shake hands, and have the opportunity to see each other face to face,” Pillarella says.

“I am just the captain of the ship,” he continues. “I have so many people supporting me. My board of directors, these guys are huge. They are the core of what we do; our membership is the core of what we do. I am lucky enough to run this show, but these folks are the reason we succeed. It has very little to do with me and so much more to do with everybody else.”

They say, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” The American Culinary Federation of Cape Cod definitely got going. The chapter is a testament to giving back to local community, feeding the hearts and souls of those in need. “It’s all about community. It’s all about the Cape,” Delancey reflects. 

For more information, make sure to visit the American Culinary Federation online at acfcapecod.com and check out our coverage of the Family Table Collaborative’s amazing work here.

Brenna Collins is the staff writer for Cape Cod Life Publications.